One of the most awesome privileges a new pilot experiences is the ability to take passengers up flying with them – sharing the sky and the wonder of flight. This responsibility must not be taken lightly. For many of your passengers, their flight with you may very well be the first time ever in a small aircraft. For this reason and others, it is critically important to brief your passengers before each flight – both on safety-related items, and what to expect during their time aloft. This passenger briefing applies to glider pilots, helicopter pilots, airplane pilots, and others. It’s not just the mark of a good pilot – many parts of the briefing are required by the FAA.
How to Approach the Passenger Briefing
It is important to approach the passenger briefing in a manner that doesn’t scare your passenger or cause unnecessary anxiety for first-time fliers. Let them know that you care about their experience and that the briefing is a way to help ensure their safety and enjoyment. You might tell them to reflect on the last time they flew on an airliner. Then tell them your briefing will be much simpler and a lot less boring.
What Items and Topics Should be Included in a Passenger Briefing?
There are many items that a pilot can cover in a briefing. The big three items that come to mind when I brief my passengers are:
This one is easy to overlook but it’s critically important (and legally required). Many aircraft seatbelts are not the same as your standard automobile belt; some come with five-point harnesses while others may have a shoulder belt buckle that slides into the waist clasp. Another thing to consider when briefing how to fasten is how tight the belts should be; tight enough so one doesn’t bang their head on the cockpit liner but loose enough to move about and enjoy the scenery.
From a regulatory standpoint, two seatbelt-related tasks are required in the briefing:
1. …the pilot in command of that aircraft ensures that each person on board is briefed on how to fasten and unfasten that person’s seat belt and, if installed, shoulder harness. (14 CFR 91.107(a)(1)).
2. …the pilot in command of that aircraft ensures that each person on board has been notified to fasten his or her safety belt and, if installed, his or her shoulder harness. (14 CFR 91.107(a)(2).)
In short, your passengers must know how and when to use their belts.
This one is often overlooked when people take family and friends along for a ride. Sterile cockpit basically means that all communications must be restricted to essential topics only while flying in critical phases of flight, such as takeoff or landing. If you haven’t briefed this before takeoff, it may impede your ability to kindly silence your passenger as you’re running your prelanding checklist and focusing on getting on the ground safely.
If properly briefed, a simple reminder in the air might sound like this: “That’s a great question. Let’s talk about it after we land.” Even better, your passenger has been briefed to speak up if they see other traffic in the vicinity; improving your ability to see and avoid.
Depending on your passenger, emergency egress briefing may be as simple as showing them how to operate the door, window, and canopy latches. Tell them that in an emergency, you will instruct them when to open the door and when to leave the aircraft.
A subtopic to emergency egress is where to go after vacating the aircraft after an emergency landing. Make sure your passengers know to avoid spinning propellers, low wings, and any liquids that may pose a hazard to their safety. An airline captain friend of mine reminded me that the pilot must consider surface wind conditions and the direction from which emergency vehicles may approach. It’s up to you to determine how detailed a briefing you want to give.
As mentioned above, the big three are just a starting point. Your passenger may benefit from understanding how long the taxi will take, how high you will fly, how fast you plan to travel, and whether or not you expect smooth air enroute. You will get a feel for how the passenger is digesting the information as you go along. For some, less is more. For others, they want to know as much as you have time to share. If you feel the briefing is complete, you can invite them to ask more questions once you reach a non-critical phase of flight.
There is a “SAFETY” Passenger Briefing Acronym (faasafety.gov) out there to assist pilots. Tailor it for your aircraft, mission, and passenger(s) as you see fit:
S – Seat belts, Shoulder harness, Seat position
A – Air vents, Action in case of discomfort
F – Fire extinguisher
E – Exit doors, Evacuation plan, Equipment
T – Traffic (scanning, notifying pilot), Talking (Sterile Cockpit)
Y – Your questions (Let the pilot know)
Questions Your Passengers May Have About Flying for the First Time
For first-time passengers, the sensation of flight comes with a multitude of questions. Let them know that there is no such thing as a “dumb” question. Encourage them to speak up if they see or feel something that doesn’t appear right. You never know if your passenger will become a pilot after riding with you. Share your knowledge and be a good ambassador for general aviation.
Glider Passenger Briefing Considerations
There are some nuanced differences when taking a passenger up in a glider as opposed to a Cessna 172 or Piper Archer. If you are aerotowing, plan to discuss the close proximity of the tow plane and glider. Also, consider discussing the sounds and visual cues of being on tow, including the “thud” as you release. Another thing to discuss in a glider is what not to touch – specifically, the canopy jettison handle (except in case of an emergency). Also, don’t forget to talk about airsickness and how to combat it. Turning in circles (thermaling) can lead airsickness in some people. In a front-back seating configuration, the only clue you may get that your passenger isn’t feeling well could be the sounds of them wretching.
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Disclaimer: This post is not legal advice, flight instruction, or ground instruction. For answers to questions specific to your situation and experience, consult a flight instructor in your area.